East Village Film Festival makes it debut



Volume 73, Number 16 | August 20 – 26, 2003


“Buddy Cianci: The Musical”

NYCFringe 2003, through August 24

La Tea, 107 Suffolk Street

between Rivington and Delancey

(212) 279-4488.

Corrupt former mayor of Providence subject of musical

Buddy’s bustin’ out all over.

Buddy Cianci, that is — Vincent Albert Cianci, Jr.

Not out of jail, that is. The much-loved, much-deplored six-term mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, convicted on just one count of racketeering conspiracy — out of 16 assorted charges — still has the best part of five years to work off in the federal hoosegow at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

“It’s like going to a very, very inexpensive spa,” the Boston Globe reports Buddy having said when he bid so long to listeners on his radio talk show.

But while 61-year-old Buddy is cooling his heels at that spa he’s the subject of a just-published biography, “The Prince of Providence” (Random House), by Providence Journal reporter Mike Stanton; of an upcoming satirical novel by Brown University lecturer Robert Arellano; and — most immediately for New York theatergoers — of a 2003 N.Y. Fringe Festival entry, “ ‘Buddy’ Cianci: the Musical,” that runs through this Sunday [AUG 24] at La Tea, 107 Suffolk Street.

If the 1959 Broadway musical “Fiorello!” was the saga of a mayor who took a great city and made it greater, “ ‘Buddy’ Cianci: the Musical” is about a gabby, Energizer bunny of a guy who, for all his sins, took an ancient town once sneered at as “the armpit of New England” and turned it, at taxpayers’ and graft-givers’ expense, into “the Renaissance City” of the 1980s and ‘90s.

The sins included using a fireplace log to beat up a man that Buddy thought had screwed around with Buddy’s neglected wife.

“The way I first heard that story,” says Jonathon Van Gieson, “was that Buddy and his police chief beat the crap out of the guy and then Buddy put out a cigar on the guy’s testicles. That’s not a true story, but I thought it was true at the time.”

Van Gieson, who wrote the book and half the lyrics of “ ‘Buddy’ Cianci: the Musical,” left the cigar out but the fireplace log in. The music and other half of the lyrics are by Mike Tarantino.

Van Gieson and Tarantino are 1996 graduates of Brown University, which means they were hanging out in Providence, R.I., for four years of Buddy Cianci’s segmented two-decade incumbency — and a couple of years more than four “because we both had girlfriends in the class of ‘98, so we waited around for two years for them.”

Van Gieson’s girlfriend, Xina (Christina) Nicosia, native of Boston, is now “my wife, slash, costume designer” (of this show), also an actress (not in this show), and though he and his wife currently live in Brooklyn, 29-year-old Jonathan Van Gieson was born and raised in Greenwich Village — “well, maybe not born, but raised on Bank Street off Bleecker.” And has the long hair to prove it, down to his coccyx.

His schools were P.S. 41, P.S. 3 (“where I fitted in better, a little less conservative, more along my lines”), and St. Ann’s, in Brooklyn.

“In fact David Stern, who plays Buddy in this show, went to St. Ann’s, and so did Erich Bechtel, our sound designer, and the brother-in-law of our publicist Karen Greco went to St. Ann’s, and Catherine Lascoumes, our stage manager, has cousins at St. Ann’s, and James Busby, our musical director, teaches there.”

Not listed in the St. Ann’s Mafia is director Dean Strober.

At Brown, Van Gieson took playwriting under Paula {“How I Learned to Drive”) Vogel and studied writing with Robert (“Pricksongs and Decants”) Coover. But his BA is in Visual Arts. “I had an easier time finagling my way through Visual Arts than Theater Arts.”

Van Gieson arrived as a freshman at Brown during Buddy Cianci’s fourth term as mayor — “but his first term after his probation for his conviction on the assault charge” in the fireplace-log case.

“Yes,” says Jonathan, “I met him once, at a party. Everybody met Buddy at a party. I don’t think anybody in Providence didn’t meet Buddy at a party. There’s a song about that in the show.

“First his advance guard would show up. He always had people around him. He’d arrive a little late, and would walk around shaking hands.

“Not a tall man. Not very striking physically. Was a little hunched over. But he had quite a presence. And of course, that toupee. Can’t forget the toupee. What color? Well, it was black at the time, but migrated to gray during the trial.”

Jonathan Van Gieson of Greenwich Village and Mike Tarantino of California had been wanting to write a musical together all through college, but never got around to it. “We exacerbate each other’s lack of work ethic.”

It was when Cianci was finally convicted on the racketeering conspiracy charge just about a year ago that Van Gieson called Tarantino up and said: “What about this for a musical?” “Great idea!” was the instant reply.

“You would think we’d start writing it right away, but not so.” Jonathan and his wife Xina had had a show in the 2002 New York Fringe Festival — “Man of Infinite Desire,” written by and starring her, directed and produced by him — so now, this past February, he submitted the Buddy Cianci idea to the Fringe.

“They accepted it in April — and then Mike and I had to write. It was done very quickly. I probably wrote the thing in a month, including research” — which in turn included “reading a lot of Damon Runyon, because that’s the way Buddy talks. After it was written, Mike went to work on the songs.”

Jonathan doesn’t know if Cianci knows of the existence of this musical, “but I’d be surprised if he didn’t.” Van Gieson has tried calling the prison but couldn’t get through the system of push button this, push button that.

At the end of the run of “Buddy Cianci: the Musical,” Mr. and Mrs. Van Gieson are heading up to the First Woodstock, N.Y., Fringe Festival, where they’re to stage her “Man of Infinite Desire” piece.

Which is?

“A one-woman retelling of the Faust myth from the point of view of Mephistopheles, using monologue, mask, puppets, and prestidigitation.”

It’ll never be S.R.O. at Fort Dix.

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